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London cyclists are worried, says report — except the ones who aren't

Short distance bike commuters most anxious, long-distance the least

Who are London's most and least worried commuters? People who get to work by bike, according to a fascinating report from the Greater London Assembly, which says that on average London bike commuters are  more anxious than those elsewhere in the UK but those with long rides to work are the least anxious.

The report, Commuting and individual well-being in London analysed data from the Annual Population Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics. Participants were asked four questions relating to their happiness and well-being:

How anxious did you feel yesterday?
Overall, how worthwhile do you feel the things you have done in life are?
How satisfied are you with your life?
How happy did you feel yesterday?

On average, bike commuters in London are quite anxious, and significantly more anxious than those outside the capital. The average anxiety score for the city was 3.3 out of 10, Bike commuters scored 3.4 while those who got to work by car or on foot were the least anxious at 3.1 and bus passengers the most at 3.5.

But outside London bike commuters are less anxious than average with a score of 2.7 against an average of 2.9.

Anxiety level varies with the distance people commute, and it varies most for cyclists. The most anxious of all London commuters are those with bike rides under 15 minutes, who report an anxiety score of 4.4. The least anxious also commute by bike, but their journeys take over 45 minutes and with a score of just 2.5 they're London's least worried commuters.

On average, people who use the Tube are London's happiest commuters, with a reported score of 7.4, but cyclists are close behind at 7.3.

London's happiest commuters are those with bus journeys under 30 minutes with a happiness score of 7.7, but cyclists with 15-29 minute journeys are not far behind at 7.5.

A groups of cyclists was also the highest scoring in response to the question about how worthwhile people thought the things they'd done in their lives were. Riders with commutes over 45 minutes were the only group to score 8.0 on this measure of well-being.

The report's author, Emma White, points out that the numbers involved in some groups of responses are too small for them to be considered representative.

Ms White suggests the data highlights two areas for future research into the well-being of London cycle commuters. She writes:

Cycling to work in London had a significantly negative impact on anxiety, with the mean score being much higher than the same score for all people in London. On the contrary, working people living in the rest of the UK (excluding London) had a much lower mean anxiety score than their London counterparts and a score lower than the mean score for all people living in the rest of the UK. Is there something about cycling in London that is causing this discrepancy in mean scores between the two areas, or are there other factors affecting this?

Following on from the above point, cycling for less than 15 minutes had a more negative impact on anxiety than any other time travelled to work group. Are people cycling to work for less than 15 minutes in London more likely to be living in areas with harsher and more dangerous road conditions than those cycling for longer? Or are the individual attributes linked to those cycling for short time periods having a negative impact on anxiety?

Thanks to Henri de Ruiter for this tweet with the details of how cyclists in the Netherlands feel about their travel choices.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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gmac101 | 9 years ago

The reason short commutes may be more anxiety inducing is they often have less choice of route, I had a 1.5 mile commute in SW London and the only realistic route, especially in winter was along a congested main road with zero cycle provision. I now have a longer commute and about 3 choices of route and I take the longest and quietest! The only anxiety being induced by roundabouts and those pinch points that were discussed last week.
And as pointed out the shorter the commute generally the less experienced person on a bike and they tend to stick to the routes they know which are often the ones they use in their cars. My current long route to work exploits several shared paths that make it impossible to drive the route, when I describe it to people they often surprised that even it exists

stealfwayne | 9 years ago

I ride every week within the M25, in the city and the outskirts. Always I take care. If I am doing everything right - then what every happens must be someone else's fault. I cannot and will not change my love of riding on the off chance that a random moron will cause us to have an accident.
I love riding in London, beautiful things are there to be seen and experienced. Yes there are idiots but you have them outside of London as well. Hell; I used to live and ride in Peterborough - was knocked into oncoming traffic by a knob leaving a garage forecourt. ( I was okay bar a twisted ankle )
anxiety is a negative, cycling is a stronger positive. I'll keep riding and keep happy.

Stay safe out there all.

Colin Peyresourde | 9 years ago

30 minutes by bus? That means they live 10 minutes walk away by London traffic standards. No wonder they're happy.

hampstead_bandit | 9 years ago

The only times I enjoy riding my road bike within London are early on Saturday morning (before 9am) and on Sunday morning before 11am.

Beyond these times the roads are full of traffic.

Monday-Friday are write offs for pleasant riding, due to sheer volume of traffic.

arfa | 9 years ago

If you cycle along tower hill/upper Thames Street, embankment, Vauxhaul gyratory or park lane (to name but a few) I could understand how the tube might be more pleasant !
Time of Day could be a factor too as if you're on the road around 6 am the roads are far quieter and there are fewer impatient tools out and about.

ChasM | 9 years ago

The 'unrepresentative' data seems to back up my experience. The current 45km London commute is much more pleasurable than the 10km I used to do.

hampsted bandit and Gizmo make good points. But maybe it's just the sheer satisfaction that comes from riding a longer distance?

As for tube commuters being the happiest, wow, let's see if you could break out a smile now and again?

Quince | 9 years ago

The point someone raised about shorter rides corresponding to proportionally more central/busier journeys is something I find interesting. From my experience of cycling in London, the closer you get to the centre, the less the environment provides any of the qualities that can make riding a bike beneficial and pleasant.

Obviously, it's generally more hectic, and there become more things that can kill you from more directions, but also - due to traffic lights, congestion, etc. - the rhythm of getting around is ludicrously erratic. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone in Central London actually sitting on their bicycle. People are either stood awkwardly behind cars or lights, or sprinting for all their might to match the acceleration of the motor vehicles that define the flow of traffic through sheer bulk.

If I am to find a bicycle ride pleasant and relaxing, then it must be predictable, consistent, at my own pace, and generally not require me to have my systems of 'self defence' or 'evasive action' on standby, let alone actually in use.

Ride for 45 minutes, and chances are you'll at least be somewhere that isn't Central London for the bulk of it. I think that's enough to reduce anyone's anxiety levels significantly.

Username | 9 years ago

For eight years I commuted from Camden to Vauxhall. I tried various variations but all routes were very busy, stressful and frankly unpleasant.

However the ±20 mins cycle was much less stressful than the few times I did the journey by Tube (45 mins); or the even fewer times I actually drove: that was an hour of hell.

OldRidgeback | 9 years ago

My commute takes me through a couple of parks in the morning, with only one short section of narrow road where vehicle speeds can be high.

The return trip would be just as good if the parks were still open. I do have to cope with a slightly longer stretch of busy road an impatient motorists.

This contrasts strongly with my old commute, along very busy roads and a longer distance. But I still liked that as I found a couple of back routes to avoid the worst bits. Even using that route I wasn't anxious.

jollygoodvelo | 9 years ago

As above, a pretty useless report as it stands but raising lots of points that bear investigation.

My hypothesis would be that commutes over a given distance are self-selecting: inexperienced and low-confidence cyclists won't attempt a commute of 45 minutes or more, so the only people who do this are the people who are calm and happy about it.

rogermerriman | 9 years ago

My commute is back roads and Bushy Park stressful it's not.

hampstead_bandit | 9 years ago

I can only compare my own, recent experiences of 2 very different commutes

My previous commute when I worked at Sigma Sport in Hampton Wick took from my home in NW1 (Camden) through the back streets of West London, out across Hammersmith bridge, through Roehampton into Richmond Park and through Kingston

The distance every day was a problem (taking 50-55 minutes), but the actual commute was quite pleasant, especially once across Hammersmith bridge (this was my half way point). The traffic was rarely a problem as I had use of protected bus lanes and back streets. I had no incidents in 7 months of commuting.

My current commute takes me from my home in NW1 (Camden) through Kings Cross, up over Angel, down through Shoreditch, along Commercial Road and into the Docklands.

Its a shorter commute (30-35 minutes) but in much heavier traffic.

I've tried different combinations of routes and different directions, but they take much too long, and you are stuck in heavy local traffic on crowded streets.

I'd say I am more concerned about my safety on this current commute. I would not say anxiety, as I have been riding bikes for 30+ years and commuting in London for 15+ of those years.

Since starting this commute in June 2014, I have seen a number of road traffic collisions, ridden into areas where road traffic collisions have occured (broken glass / blood / emergency services) had more near misses with cars jumping lights / doing dodgy things, and last week crashed hard at Kings Cross after a pedestrian walked into the road.

My conclusion is that a longer commute coming into a City, can perhaps be safer and less stressful, than a shorter commute where you have to punch through the centre of a City.

bikebot | 9 years ago

I love a bit of data.

It's worth taking a few minutes to look at the report itself. Only then can you appreciate how completely pointless it is. No demographic separation, it doesn't even distinguish between journeys in inner and outer London. It's a fine example of a completely useless data point, I may use it as an example of such in the future.

alsothings replied to bikebot | 9 years ago

@bikebot: Completely agree. Reading the report made me long for some demographic bins. I'd love to know, e.g. what happens to the anxiety score when you account for household income (to take an obvious example) or 'satisfaction' and age.

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